Your Parenting for a Peaceful Home Free Gift
By Greg Kuhn
Stepfamilies are plentiful, but resources for them are not. Which is unfortunate because stepfamilies are much more likely to be minefields than traditional ones. One look at US Census data shows that close to 70% of blended-family marriages end in divorce.
Why is it so difficult to be a stepparent? Why is parenting a stepchild so challenging? We don’t need to go any further than the obvious – your children did not ask for a new parental figure, nor, in most cases, do they particularly want one. While you may be happy to find a new partner, your children are thrust into a relationship they are prone to reject and resent.
Misunderstanding and miscommunication is common enough between any parent and child. When you are a stepparent, however, the potential is much higher. Anger and arguments are much more likely between a stepparent and stepchild because of resentment and wounds from the divorce.
When a stepparent and stepchild are angry with each other, the odds increase exponentially that:
- There will be no satisfying resolution for you two
- The divide between you two will expand
- The two of you will increase the resentment you feel
By the way, when I type “the two of you” I am not just referring to the stepparent and stepchild. I am also referencing the two adult partners. An inability to resolve conflicts between a stepparent and stepchild has great potential to drive a wedge into the adults’ relationship too.
What Do You Need to Maneuver a Minefield?
Luckily, there is a way to navigate a minefield unharmed: follow a map. Just because landmines abound, doesn’t mean you must step on one. A good map can help your marriage and blended family avoid a potentially disastrous misstep.
What follows is a map for the minefield of a blended family. It won’t allow you to start controlling your stepchild or partner, but it will allow you to find solutions that work for all of you. Use this map any time you become angry with your stepchild and discover the best solutions available to you. Use the map to unveil, within yourself, answers to painful misunderstandings and miscommunication that lead to anger and arguments within a blended family.
Map Step One: Ask Yourself, “What is making me so angry?”
Answering this question is about identifying what your stepchild is doing to make you so angry. Determine what your stepchild is doing – being dismissive, obstinate, disrespectful, or any other infuriating behavior. Answer this question privately, however, without sharing the information with your stepchild or partner yet.
After identifying what your stepchild is doing to make you so angry, process that anger. As much as possible, continue to keep things to yourself while you process it. Processing anger should involve a physical activity like walking, jogging, or punching a pillow while giving yourself permission to fully feel it. Simply acknowledging anger isn’t the same as processing it, leaving you more at risk to:
- Take your anger out on your stepchild and partner
- Intellectualize your feelings, which is very different from processing them
You’ll know when your anger is processed when it has lost its power over you. When anger is there, but no longer “driving the bus” (or controlling your state of being), you have most likely processed it. At this point, still keeping things private, proceed to the second question.
Map Step Two: Ask Yourself, “Why was I so angry about that?”
Answering this question is about identifying what, in you, was provoked by your stepchild. This is no longer about who did what to whom; this is about you. Determine what, inside yourself, was threatened or stirred up by searching for feelings of:
By keeping your answers private so you can search for sadness and fear without worry of exposure or vulnerability.
The sadness or fear you discover is a raw wound. Only a raw wound hurts that much when jabbed. And the sadness or fear that led you to this wound are feelings you did not know about or wanted to avoid.
Once you have discovered your wound, process the sadness or fear that lead you to it. As before, process your sadness or fear using a combination of physical activity and self-permission to feel that emotion without watering it down. You’ll know, again, that you’ve processed your feelings when they are no longer dictating your state of mind. At this point, you will still be aware of the anger and the sadness or fear, but those emotions will not be in charge.
Map Step Three: Now Look for Solutions
First you processed your anger, then you processed your sadness or fear. Those emotions no longer control who you are; you now have the greatest potential to recognize potential solutions for the relationship with your stepchild.
Processing anger took the edge off your focus on what was done to you. And processing sadness or fear put more focus on the wound that made what happened to you so threatening. You’ll never be able to dictate the attitude or behavior of your stepchild, but you can always heal a wound. If nothing else, healing a wound allows you to be as conscientious and empathetic as possible.
Solutions to a raw wound usually involve one of three things:
- Doing something differently to help resolve your pain
- Understanding something differently to help resolve your pain
The more processed your anger, the more clearly you’ll discover sadness or fear. The more processed your sadness or fear, the more clearly you’ll see a wound. And the more clearly you see a wound, the more access you have to solutions. With practice looking for them, solutions will arise that provide noticeable improvements in your relationship with both your stepchild and partner.
With a some self-honesty, introspection, and commitment, this map can open new realms of connection with stepchildren. I know of no better way to navigate the minefield of a blended family than this map. You will never be assured that an experience will unfold as you hope or expect, but you can always give yourself the best chance for resilience, insight, and clarity with your stepchild and partner.
Greg Kuhn is a professional educator, writer, and speaker. For the last seventeen years, he has written about optimizing the human experience, with his father, Dr. Clifford Kuhn, and in his best-selling Why Quantum Physicists… book series. In his latest book, The 30-Minute Soulmate, Greg explains how you can empower yourself and experience more of what you want. Easy to understand and powerful enough to work, The 30-Minute Soulmate is an important book for anyone who wants more from a relationship.